6. Work and Economic Life

Sociology Notes

(a) Social organization of work in different types of society - slave society, feudal society, industrial capitalist society (b) Formal and informal organization of work (c) Labour and society


Table of contents


Social organisation of work in different types of societies

Slave, feudal, industrial/capitalist society

Note on slave society: A typical reference to slave society refers to the societies of ancient Greece and Rome. From a sociological perspective, the slavery that flourished in the New World was an outlier for the added ethnic/racial dimension. Though it was in keeping with the general idea that slavery flourished in places where resources (mainly land) are in abundance and labour is in shortage.

Marx said that work was a necessity of life. It was a creative interchange between man, his natural environment and his social environment conducted in such a way that elements of his environment are changed in a purposive manner. It was through the labour of man that things acquired value.

Social Capital - Pierre Bourdieu

  1. Enables a person to exert power on the group or individual who mobilises the resources.
  2. Not uniformly available to members of a group or collective but available to those who provide efforts to acquire it by achieving positions of power and status and by developing goodwill.
  3. Attached to class and other forms of stratification which in turn are associated with various forms of benefit or advancement.
  4. Resides in the individual and is linked to social connections that a person can utilise for advancement.
  5. Manifested through benefits derived from social networks, however, the source of social capital stems from social, economic, and cultural structures that create differential power and status for specific individuals and not others.
  6. Power and status create taken-for-granted assumptions such as social norms that produce advantage.
  7. Social capital is therefore not so much about having a large social network but having social position that creates the potential for advantage from one’s social network.
  8. Linked to the reproduction of class, status, and power relations, so it is based on the notion of power over as opposed to power to. This is fundamentally different to most current conceptualisations of social capital that either treat it as a universal resource or consider it available to anyone who invests in its creation. For Bourdieu, social capital resides in the individual by virtue of macro social, economic, and cultural structures that creates advantage through their social network.

SOCIAL ORGANISATION OF WORKS

Slave Society

  • Slaves have no rights, a commodity themselves.
  • Masters have free sexual access to slaves.
  • Production is mainly domestic and of subsistence nature. However, estates meant for commercial production were also known, ex. the vineyards in Ancient Rome.
  • Labour intensive production, & physical labour is usually considered demeaning.
  • Informal organisation of work, not irrational but not fully rationalised either.
  • Highly flexible organisation of work, where relations between people were more important than relations between positions/posts.
  • No mental/manual hierarchy among workers as very little mental work exists, which in general is tackled by the elite (men of letters).
  • Abundance of productive land and shortage of labour. Slaves are subjected to non-economic compulsions (mainly force & coercion) to make them work.
  • Open exploitation of workers, however some concern was also shown as is evident in the fact that multiple accounts mention that a good slave is better than a bad son.
  • Slaves face alienation as they have no control over their own produce, be it grain or offspring.
  • Social or geographical mobility is limited.

Feudal Society

  • Serfs have hereditary rights to work on land.
  • Serfs have no rights against the lord but they have the right to their own body and children, though lords did have say over marriage and inheritance (needed permission, also rights of prima nocta).
  • Production is mainly domestic and of subsistence nature.
  • Labour intensive production, & physical labour is usually considered demeaning.
  • Informal organisation of work, not irrational but not fully rationalised either.
  • Highly flexible organisation of work, where relations between people were more important than relations between positions/posts.
  • No mental/manual hierarchy among workers as very little mental work exists, which in general is tackled by the elite (religious men and men of letters).
  • Abundance of productive land and shortage of labour. Serfs are subjected to non-economic compulsions (mainly force) to make them work.
  • Open exploitation of workers, the lord can do what he pleases with the serfs.
  • Serfs don’t face alienation as they have some control over their own produce.
  • Social or geographical mobility is limited as serf is usually tied to the lord/manor.

Industrial Society

  • Production is mainly in factories/firms and profit orientation drives work.
  • Capital intensive production, where work is worship ethos is usually promoted. Ex 996 culture in China.
  • Formal organisation of work, rationalised work and production.
  • Inflexible organisation of work, where relations between people are not as important as the relations between positions/posts (bureaucracy).
  • Clear hierarchy between mental and manual workers.
  • Have shortage of productive resources and abundance of labour. Workers are subjected to economic compulsions to make them work.
  • Disguised exploitation of workers. People can, in theory, say no to exploitation; thus, labour is formally free.
  • Workers face alienation as they have no control over their own produce.
  • Social or geographical mobility is allowed and expected.

FORMAL & INFORMAL ORGANISATION OF WORK

Formal

  • Work organised on the basis of well-defined rules which are general and abstract.
  • Specific goals pertaining to organisation.
  • Rigid pattern of relations and procedure for work is well defined.
  • Organisational structure is independent of individuals/workers.
  • Positions as well as channels of communication are in a well-defined hierarchy.
  • Control of production depends on position in the organisation.

Informal

  • No codified/rational rules for governing relations.
  • Diffused goals which are usually collective goals rather than goal of the organisation.
  • No rigid patterns of relations or procedure for work.
  • Relations between people more important than the organisational hierarchy.
  • Flexible hierarchy with control depending on personality rather than position.
  • Rumours, gossip, etc. form the basis of communication.

Note: informal and formal organisation of work are not mutually exclusive. Ex. Alvin Gouldner in his gypsum plant study showed that informal structures at work strengthen formal organisation.

Gouldner talked about 3 different types of bureaucracy:

  • Mock bureaucracy,
  • representative bureaucracy, and
  • punishment-centered bureaucracy.

Herbert Gans - Positive functions of poverty

  1. Applied Mertonian functional analysis to study poverty.
  2. Poverty provides a group willing to serve as a peacetime army.
  3. Poverty allows the upper classes with an outlet for charity.
  4. Creates jobs for people in professions that serve the poor.

GLOBALISATION & THE WORKFORCE

Effects of globalisation

On Individual:

  • Falling wages & longer working hours. Degenerating social life.
  • Anomic DoL. Rise of association groups to cater to social needs.
  • College students not getting jobs turning to stone pelting in J&K. Deviance.
  • Increasing alienation despite an environment of plenty.
  • Have to compromise on social roles to keep up with the frantic pace of work.

On Sub-system (stratification):

  • Rising income inequality. Oxfam report: 70% wealth went to top 1% of India.
  • Mental/manual hierarchy.
  • Women are more likely to withdraw from the workforce on downsizing. (Feminisation of poverty)
  • Decreased mobility leading to solidfying inequality. Michael Sandel.

On Sub- system (politics):

  • Development, employment and economic growth become major poll platforms. Ex recent Bihar election.
  • Salaried working class is able to articulate its grievances and the state often take measures to protect their interests. Structural conduciveness.
  • Workers, unable to make their opinions heard, bear the brunt of globalisation. Ex new labour codes relaxing assessment guidelines.
  • Economic growth and investment major political and policy concerns.
  • Rise of middle class as a political force.
  • Political focus on urban issues as conduciveness for protests is higher. Strain theory.
  • Strong civil society groups. India's silent revolution. Christophe Jaffrelot. Ex. PUCL, ADR, PRS.

On Sub-system (family)

  • Pluralisation of family forms. APS/PS.
  • Rise of family as a unit of consumption rather than production. Peter Wilmott.
  • Role bargaining in kinship relations. WJ Goode.
  • Moving towards gesellschaft pattern variables in kinship relations. Parsons.
  • Family vs household. Woodfort/Bethnal green studies. Wilmott & Young.

On System:

  • Lower classes more exposed to economic shocks. Disaster capitalism - Naomi Klein.
  • Decomposition of labour and capital. Ralf Dahrendorf.
  • Rapid and unpredictable changes in the system.
  • Globalisation is pushing informalisation. Jan Breman.
  • Tyranny of merit. Michael Sandel.

996 Culture in China is promoting burnout.  Article 43 says state should ensure adequate leisure.
SK and the city of Shenzhen have made it mandatory for people to utilise their leaves.

Glass Ceiling by Marilyn Loden given in 1978. Can be depicted as a graph. 40 years on it is still valid across the globe and especially in developing countries like India.
Harry Potter themed protests in Thailand against the government and monarchy. Pop culture symbols being used by protests to gain media attention.

Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood becoming a symbol of anti-abortion protests in Argentina and US states. Widespread anti-abortion protests in Poland.

Productivity studies conducted by Mercer, during the covid lockdowns points to increased productivity in remote work. Despite these reports, employer opinion surveys point to a preference for higher in-office time and longer shift durations. Weber's thesis that ideas lead to change at work here as puritanical ideas, the root of capitalism, still take precedence over empirical studies.


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